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  M.   August 22, 2014

The movie Made in Dagenham celebrates a real-life early fight for equal pay for women — “1968. It’s a man’s world. But not for long…” ran the strapline. But according to Gemma Arterton, who will soon be starring in Rupert Goold’s West End musical adaptation of the film, it’s not just women’s rights that still need to be fought for — it’s 2014 and the working classes are still getting a bum deal.

Arterton was at the BFI last night for a screening of the 2010 movie as part of the institute’s Screen Epiphanies series. The inspiring feminist film — based on the Dagenham women who went on strike at a Ford factory — also includes a scene in which the heroine, played by Sally Hawkins, is patronised by a teacher at her son’s school for coming from an estate. For Arterton, the Gravesend-born daughter of a cleaner and a welder, it was vital that the stage adaptation retained the same rousing social commentary.

“Working on this musical,” she explained, “it’s so easy to make working-class people seem stupid or rough or dirty. But they are not. They are dignified and ladylike. The bottom line is that this is about grounded, rooted women, with a real camaraderie, who stand up for what they think is right and change things.”

Having met the women whose real-life story inspired the film, Arterton says it only increased her frustration with how the working classes are often portrayed in the media. “They didn’t realise at the time how important what they were doing was,” she recalls. “One of them said to me, ‘It wasn’t until we went to the Cannes Film Festival with the film that we realised we were even feminists’.”